Bill Cosby charms crowd while hosting Thurgood Marshall College Fund gala

November 13, 2013

Bill Cosby speaks onstage at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 25th awards gala at the Washington Hilton. (Larry French/Getty Images for Thurgood Marshall College Fund)

Bill Cosby enthusiastically threw himself into hosting duties at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 25th awards gala Monday night, and seemed delighted — until he was forced to introduce Redskins running back Alfred Morris to present an award.

“I hope Thurgood appreciates this,” grumbled the diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan, calling Morris “one of your own, but not mine.”

Cosby, 76, served as ringmaster of the event, marking the first time the 26-year-old organization — which supports students at historically black colleges and universities — held its gala in Washington because it recently moved its corporate headquarters to D.C.

Hundreds of students, university officials and corporate sponsors streamed into the Washington Hilton for the black-tie fundraiser, which featured (what else?) awards and inspirational speeches.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 11: Jennifer Holliday performs at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 25th Awards Gala on November 11, 2013 in Washington City. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Thurgood Marshall College Fund)
Jennifer Holliday performs at the gala. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Thurgood Marshall College Fund)

The hosting gig led to some fringe benefits: A chance for Cosby to spend time with the co-founder of Ben’s Chili Bowl, one of his favorite restaurants. The comedian brought Virginia Ali as his “Camille Cosby-approved” date. “Virginia is special to me because she gave me my first half-smoke — and I ate it all,” he told the crowd.

Other celebs: Jennifer Holliday, performing a still-riveting rendition of her “Dreamgirls” smash “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”; rappers Lil Mama and MC Lyte; the new Miss America, Nina Davuluri, who showed up to charm the guests, tiara perched on her head. Gallup chief executive Jim Clifton and his wife, Susan, aren’t stars, but were treated like royalty when they announced a $1 million donation to the fund.

But Cosby was clearly the star of the gala, drawing big laughs as he riffed on everything between award presentations. To the reverend delivering the invocation before dinner: “You’re going to invocate? Now do you know that the people are hungry? Is the Lord going to be reminded of a lot of things?”

However, the comedian pivoted sharply toward inspirational at the end of the night. “The faculty of these schools still carry on the civil rights movement,” he told the crowd. He told a story about his late son, Ennis, who had a classmate in graduate school at Columbia tell him he only got an ‘A’ because of “affirmative action.” He encouraged the college students in the audience to save the partying for after graduation and concentrate on homework and acing tests: “There’s no better feeling on the face of the earth than turning the page on the first question, after you studied and you know it all. . . and you feel like saying to the professor, ‘Is this the best you have?’”

The audience adored him, even Morris: “He’s a Philly fan, but we all make bad decisions in life, so it’s okay.”

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Michael Livingston | November 12, 2013